`Spy mania' strikes Russia


Charges: The FSB, successor to the KGB, has shown a new assertiveness, especially since ex-KGB agent Vladimir V. Putin became president.

January 04, 2004|By Kathy Lally

Campaigners for human rights in Russia call it "spy mania": In the past eight years, perhaps a dozen people, including environmentalists, scientists and journalists, have been charged with spying.

The arrests began in 1996, when Alexander Nikitin, a retired Russian navy captain, was charged with espionage and treason for helping to write a report for Bellona, a Norwegian environmental organization. Nikitin, who had served with Russia's northern fleet, helped document the danger of deteriorating nuclear reactors on Russian submarines.

He was tried several times in St. Petersburg courts and found innocent, but the Federal Security Service, a successor to the KGB and known as the FSB, kept appealing and insisting on a conviction. After 10 months in jail and four years in court, Nikitin was finally cleared.

Only last week, Valentin Danilov, a Russian physicist, was acquitted of espionage charges. The FSB accused Danilov, a professor at Krasnoyarsk State Technical University in Siberia, of selling classified information on space technology to China.

Like most of the others arrested, Danilov said the information he was accused of obtaining for espionage came from readily available published sources, including, in his case, scientific journals.

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, recently published a report on the arrests. Following are excerpts from the report (which can be found at www.hrw.org/backgrounder/eca/russia). It describes how the FSB under Nikolai Patrushev has been showing signs of a new assertiveness, especially since Vladimir V. Putin, a former KGB agent, became president in 2000:

Four years have passed since security service officers detained Igor Sutyagin at his home. Ever since, Sutyagin has been waiting in a jail cell for a court to decide his fate. The FSB has charged Sutyagin with high treason, accusing him of collecting materials, including classified information, on a variety of issues relating to Russia's weapons systems and other military issues, and passing it on to U.S. military intelligence officers between June 1998 and July 1999.

Sutyagin maintains that he did nothing wrong, that he collected information on military issues, from open sources only, for a U.K.-based consultancy firm on the basis of a legal freelance contract. After his case went to trial, in December 2001 the Kaluga Province Court sharply criticized the FSB's investigation into the case, stating that the indictment was so vaguely formulated that it was impossible to understand the charges against Sutyagin.

But rather than acquit the defendant, the court returned the case to the FSB for "further investigation," thus awarding the agency a hardly deserved second chance. ... [A new hearing of the case is under way in Moscow.]

Throughout the past eight years, the FSB has pressed dubious espionage charges against about a dozen scientists, journalists and environmentalists. Each of the defendants had worked with foreign contacts on issues that, in Soviet times, were under the exclusive control of the FSB's predecessor, the KGB - nuclear waste dumping, environmental degradation, Russia's military preparedness, military technology, and the like - but that became topics of broader public debate during the glasnost era.

Leading human rights campaigners ... believe the FSB has intentionally pressed false charges against these individuals to restore what it sees as its exclusive dominion, and to impose new limitations on freedom of expression on these topics. They see these cases as part of the FSB's effort to reassert itself in Russian society and politics after its uneasy transition from the Soviet era. ...

In this atmosphere of changing fortunes, the FSB launched a series of criminal investigations. ... The first of these cases began [with Nikitin in 1996]. ...

In November 1997, customs officials arrested Grigory Pasko, a military journalist for the military newspaper Boevaia Vakhta (Battle Watch) who also worked as a stringer for a Japanese daily newspaper and television station. Charging him with espionage, the FSB alleged he had provided classified information to two Japanese journalists about Russia's Pacific Fleet.

In May 1998, the FSB arrested Valentin Danilov, director of a research center at Krasnoyarsk State Technical University, and charged him with espionage for allegedly passing classified information on aerospace technology to a Chinese company.

The arrest of Valentin Moiseev, a Russian diplomat and Korea expert, followed two months later. The diplomat was also charged with espionage - for providing classified information on relations between Russia and North Korea to a South Korean diplomat.

In October 1999, the FSB charged Vladimir Shchurov, the head of a research institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, with disclosing state secrets, after customs confiscated an acoustic device for measuring ocean noises he had sent to China. That same month, the FSB arrested Igor Sutyagin on espionage charges.

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